updated 10/02/2009 AT 1:10 PM ET
•originally published 10/02/2009 AT 3:00 PM ET
Former David Letterman assistant Stephanie Birkitt has emerged as the woman at the center of the shocking plot to extort $2 million from the Late Show host, but who exactly is she?
Birkitt, 34, until recently lived with Robert “Joe” Halderman, Letterman’s alleged blackmailer and a 48 Hours producer, according to multiple news sources, but die-hard Letterman fans likely remember Birkitt as the amiable assistant who often appeared on camera in silly outfits, yukking it up with Dave, who anointed her with nicknames including Smitty and Monty.
When Halderman allegedly handed over a package of potentially embarrassing information to Letterman last month – and threatened to go public unless he received a multimillion dollar payment – it reportedly included copies of parts of a diary and personal correspondence belonging to his then-girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt, according to a search warrant obtained by FOX 5 News.
The search warrant does not specify the contents of the diary – but Birkitt and her TV boss were undoubtedly close. A native of Plymouth, N.H., she graduated from Wake Forest University in 1997 and had already joined the Letterman team as an intern a year earlier, during her junior year. According to reports, after graduation she was accepted into the CBS page program and worked for shows including Letterman’s and 48 Hours. She was named an associate producer on that news show, mainly working under correspondent Erin Moriarty, before eventually finding her way back to Letterman’s Late Show.
“I heard there was a job in Dave’s office opening up and I applied, because I didn’t think I was much of a news hound, as it was a little too serious for my personality,” she told the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader in 2004.
Birkitt’s duties initially included working with Letterman’s charities and his Indy car racing team, but she got a big on-air break when the show chose her to answer the office phone when Letterman would call on-air. “We developed some sort of a phone rapport, just like we get along in real life,” Birkitt told the Union Leader. “He teases me and gives me a hard time and I’ll give it back, but overall, he’s super nice.”
“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” Birkitt told Entertainment Weekly in 2002.
Her on-air time increased as Birkitt appeared on the show to introduce the viewer mail segment of the program, often dressed in funny costumes – including those of a leprechaun, Batman, Tom Cruise and a Martian. In 2002 and 2006, she covered the Winter Olympics for the show. Birkitt eventually became known for her willingness to laugh at herself – and for her great rapport with Letterman.
“He puts me very much at ease,” she told the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 2004. “He’s very laid back about the whole thing. It’s kind of just like hanging out onstage with your buddy.”
Hinted at Closeness
When the Fort Worth paper asked her to describe her boss she hinted at their closeness. “He’s just fun. And he’s happy, and he’s nice, and he’s extremely generous with us. And he’s just playful. We play catch sometimes in the office, and we all go to screenings together. We eat food together, we sit around and watch TV together and goof on people. And he teases me in real life, too, but I give it back a lot more in real life.”
In interviews Birkitt often expressed interest in a law career, and she eventually enrolled at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, affiliated with Yeshiva University in Manhattan. The school s Web site now lists her as an alum.